Blackveil – Kristen Britain

Oh, Kristen Britain. I’m trying very hard not to be one of those readers, but you’re making it very difficult.

Blackveil is the fourth installment in Britain’s Green Rider series, and I find that I still miss the tight storytelling of the first two books. The pacing is just off in these last two.

The first half of Blackveil is loaded down with supporting, side-plot, and set-up scenes told in great (and lengthy) detail, many of them long scenes that have no bearing on the larger story arc except to get a Plot Device into Karigan’s hands or wallow in the relationship angst that is slowly taking over many character interactions. Then, the second half rushes through the continuation of series-arc storylines in broad strokes, with the Plot Devices fulfilling their roles on cue. Reading through it, one would think that the center of the series storyarc was the Monarchy and Succession of Sacoridia, and that the fight with a power-hungry Mornhaven wanting to conquer all that is good and just in the world was the side-plot.

Karigan G’ladheon has become something of a destined heroine while we weren’t looking. Instead of being centrally involved because of chance and her own characteristics (gumption, impatience, a strong sense of duty, a clear understanding of right and wrong), she has become a Chosen One.  That sound you just heard? That was my heart breaking a little.

What little resolution there was to the series arc was unsatisfying and handled in a great hurry with little detail at the end of the book. There are a lot of threads that are still stretching off into the future, and more just keep getting added.  In High King’s Tomb we were introduced to Amberhill, a Zorro look-alike who becomes entangled in Kerigan’s story through plot machinations (robbing a museum that she’s attending on a date, getting co-involved in a dashing rescue, his interest is piqued). Now, we get mentions of beings called the Sea Kings, which are tied to Amberhill’s future and somehow we must care about this while there’s an expedition to the Blackveil Forest being planned. And his “tune in next time” chapter is one of three that actually takes the place of the climactic battle of the book. The battle-winning explosion ending Kerigan’s face-off with The Enemy (un-named to avoid spoilers) actually happens off screen. “Frustrated” does not even begin to cover my feelings on the decrease in narrative through-line between Green Rider and Blackveil.

And Blackveil does end in an explicit cliff-hanger, though I feel as if High King’s Tomb ended on an in-explicit cliff-hanger, so this doesn’t actually strike me as a change in behavior for the series.

The High King’s Tomb – Kristen Britain

Cover of "The High King's Tomb (Green Rid...

Cover via Amazon

In July, I read The High King’s Tomb, the third installment in Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. Way back when the second book came out (First Rider’s Call), I somehow got the impression that Green Rider was going to be a trilogy. It may have been the obviousness of the Tolkien homage, it may have been wishful thinking, given the time between books appearing. Whatever it was, it caused severe frustration when I was 2/3 of the way through High King’s Tomb and it became clear that absolutely nothing in the series arc was going to be resolved. Only the specific-to-this-installment plot threads were resolved (sort of).

Of the things left un-resolved in First Rider’s Call, there was the D’Yer wall, Kerigan’s feelings for the King, Second Empire’s plans, and when Mornhaven would return. I’m going to be evil, and issue a set of spoilers here: By the last page of High King’s Tomb the D’Yer wall is still breached, with only hope of knowing how to fix it, Kerigan still loves the King and he’s still marrying someone else while plotting how he can get Kerigan too, Second Empire’s plans are to break the wall… which is what their plan was in book 2, and we still don’t know when Mornhaven is coming back.

What does get resolved are Lady Estoria’s feelings about her impending marriage, the increase in Green Rider ranks, the next step in Kerigan’s unique destiny (treated as a thready side-plot), and the character development of a poor-man’s Zorro wanna-be, whom I hope we never hear from again.

There is something of narrative discipline missing from this third installment. While using a similarly-sized cast of POV characters to First Rider’s Call, there is no real narrative momentum holding them together. Multiple scenes all do the same narrative work, rather than each scene advancing that narrative (either plot-wise, world-wise, or character-wise). The plot seems to hang from the character of Grandmother, rather than Kerigan, which I believe to be a great loss of story-telling potential. Especially given the climax of this book.

This review is a republishing (new blog domain).  It was originally published in July 2010.

First Rider’s Call – Kristen Britain

First Rider's Call

Image via Wikipedia

First Rider’s Call
Kristen Britain
Sequel to Green Rider

It was worth the (years long) wait between the first and this. And so good that Beloved got me the two in hardback so that I’ll have a fall-back position when I destroy the paperbacks with re-reading.

There are more characters who get sections in their POV than in the first one. King Zachary being one of the few recurring that hadn’t gotten his moment in the first book. The delicate balance of realism and magic is maintained, allowing the instances of “standard fairytale magic” to feel as wrong and the sign of a world out of whack as the plot demands they do.

Kerigan still acts her age, which is rare for strong female characters when it isn’t being played for laughs. And everyone reacts as people would, rather than living up to their character-type cliche. It was refreshing, and a relief to know that the trend continued from one book to the next.

The only complaint is that this is obviously a middle book, so things are resolved in a necessarily temporary way. It makes waiting for the next installment difficult.

This review is a republishing (new blog domain). It was originally published in April 2005

Green Rider – Kristen Britain

Cover of "Green Rider (Green Rider Trilog...

Cover via Amazon

Green Rider
by Kristen Britain

Karigan G’ladheon finds herself caught up in Kingdom-wide events when she crosses paths with a dying man on the run. He is a Green Rider – of the King’s Messenger Service, and his mission is to get a message warning of danger to the King. Karigan takes up his mission as he instructs her with his last breath, and thus launches herself along a path only legends are made to travel.

Aided by folk who don’t get involved with just any errand, and pursued by enemies who don’t act on whims, Karigan becomes a wild card in a game between highly skilled players. The game board was set before her arrival, the pieces moved as their controllers wished, until she enters and forces everyone’s hands, becoming the deciding factor simply by being where she is, and acting as herself, at any given time.

Author Britain engages in authentic world building here. Each detail is part of a wider picture, and there is the feeling of many details left un-explored, due to the necessities of the plot. This wider world makes the story a joy to follow, even as we learn more with each event.

That said, the world itself will be familiar to Tolkien readers. It’s a riff on the standard mystical version of British/ European feudal Middle Age society found in a lot of Fantasy books, yet a bit more grounded and “earthy” than, say, The Wheel of Time‘s setting. The various populations are not caricatures of societies in our own history, yet familiar as if they had evolved on a tangent branch of the cultural tree of our own historical European cultures. The Green Riders have the flavor of Irish/Celtic culture, as well as Rohan from LOTR, while still being different enough to be something like the younger cousin of those cultures. And the same goes for the other groups represented (though with less delving into their past, due to not occupying center stage).

Britain’s characters are also utterly real. Emotions ring true, and as irrational as emotions should be, as characters perform actions that are true to themselves as well as service the plot. She used the roving third-person limited POV to great advantage, as each character gets a distinct voice, and the reader gets more information essential to the story at the same time as learning the people. Also good with the dramatic tension, as neither reader nor characters have all the information.

The elements of the story are tight, in that there are no stray ruminations or information, no tangents simply to show off some aspect of the world Britain has built. All things presented arise organically from the story rather than the setting. Characters act in character as they’re presented with plot events, which resolve in one way vs another due to the actions of the characters.

Reading the acknowledgments page of a book is usually something I skip. I’m glad I at least gave it a sentence or two this time around. Knowing that Tolkien inspired the author allowed me to see the things this book has in common with Lord of the Rings as a homage instead of derivative. If I had been reading any more shallowly than I was, I may have passed that judgment, but Britain instead weaves familiar elements into something new, and it would have been a shame to miss it.

This story is well crafted, and a balm to clunky storytelling everywhere.

This is a republishing (new blog domain). This review was originally published in February 2005.